The main differentiators between theme tunes and theme songs are that songs have lyrics and they’re usually not as good as their instrumental counterparts, but there are mitigating factors. Imagine being a poor songwriter or lyricist, hired to create a song that describes the plot and atmosphere of a TV show in just a couple of verses. And make it catchy. And make it memorable. All of the songs below achieve the very tricky job of setting the show up while being un-annoying enough to ensure you don’t reach for the remote.
One rule: Songs must be written specifically for the show and not be appropriated from another source (out goes ‘Way Down In The Hole’ from The Wire).
‘Up above the streets and houses..’ Ace. It’s got flute playing worthy of Jethro Tull, hippy-ish Peter, Paul and Mary vocals and a mad drum break right at the end that teasingly promises a full-on wig out.
Not got a clue what this dull 60’s German TV show was meant to be about – Skippy with horses, maybe? – but the theme sounds like Sergio Mendes covering Belle and Sebastian. Which is a good thing, by the way.
Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?
A big, balls-out terrace chant written by the show’s co-creator Ian La Frenais. The best Oasis song Oasis never recorded.
Yes, yes, Dennis Waterman ‘wrote da feem toon, sang da feem toon’ but, if they’re all this good, let him. As soon as that descending piano riff skips in you know you’re in for at least 30 seconds good rockin’. Also features the only acceptable use of slap bass playing from the whole of the 80’s.
This one joke sitcom (that joke being ‘dwarf looks disconcerted a lot’) might have been patronising, mystifyingly-popular tosh but the theme tune has you strutting round the living room like Huggy Bear on Red Bull the second it starts.
Auf Weidersehen Pet
I could have picked any of the tunes from the original two series of ‘Auf Pet’, (all sung by Joe ‘they couldn’t afford Cocker’ Fagin) but there’s something about the melancholy of this one that sets it apart. As damning an indictment of Thatcher’s Britain as Ghost Town - I genuinely believe that. Interesting fact: When Pat ‘Bomber’ Roach died the other cast members had a wreath made for the funeral that read ‘Auf Weidersehen, Pat’ – which is genius.
Only Fools and Horses
Toughy. Do you go for the opening song or the closer? I’ve plumped for the Hooky Street because it’s not often you get a cockney rap tune that mentions Trevor Francis and sounds like a cross between Squeeze and Chas & Dave.
Welcome back Kotter
I don’t care that you’ve never heard of the programme, revel in this Randy Newman/ Billy Joel-esque slice of laid back loveliness. Interesting fact: John Travolta’s catchphrase in the show was ‘up your nose with a rubber hose’.
The Generation Game
Brucie has always wanted to be Sammy Davis Jnr – we know it, he knows it – and this is the closest he ever got to sounding like him. It’s a wonderful attempt at a Rat Pack-ish celebration of creepy uncles and buck-teethed daughters failing to make origami badgers or eat lunch on a rollercoaster. No, wait, that was Jim’ll Fix It – speaking of which….
Jim’ll Fix It
No-one can fathom the King of Leeds, Jimmy Saville. Genius? Perv? Weirdo? Renaissance Man? Saddo? – He’s all of these things and so much less besides. But without him we would never have had this piece of ba-ba-ba-brilliance. (The closing theme, by the way, not the opening pseudo-funk thing, that was crap)
I know there’s loads more, feel free to tell me where I’ve gone wrong. *Girds himself for the inevitable Banana Splits onslaught*
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